One of the many observances that are related exclusively to Ramadhan, particularly to it’s last ten days, is I’tikaf. The basic aim of I’tikaf is that the bondsman continued at the door of the Almighty, i.e.; in the corner of a mosque, cutting himself aloof from the world and devoting his time wholly to prayer and worship. It is the worship of the favourite worship of the bondsman of the Lord. Evidently, no time could be more appropriate for it than the month of Ramadhan, especially it’s ten days.
The powerful urge that had seized the Prophet (saw) before the revelation of the Qur’an to seek solitude and spend his time mostly in prayer and meditation, and , in consequence of which, he used to pass several months on end in the Cave of Hira – this, so to speak was the first I’tikaf of the Prophet (saw), and it was in that that his spirituality had evolved to the stage that marked the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an. During the last ten days of this I’tikaf, Gabriel (as) came to him with the opening verse of the Surah of Iqra. Beyond doubt and for certain it was the month of Ramadhan, it’s last ten days, and the night was the Night of Power. The last ten days of Ramadhan have, thus, been set apart for I’tikaf.
The fasts of Ramadhan have been prescribed for all Muslims for the development of the soul and for enabling it to subdue the carnal appetites. In other words, this much exertion and sacrifice of sensual desires has been made obligatory for every Muslim that he neither ate nor drank anything nor sought sexual satisfaction during the whole of the blessed month, in compliance with the command of Allah (SWT) and with the intention of paying divine honours to Him, and, along with it avoided all sinful acts and worthless things. It is the general, compulsory course of spiritual training and self-purification for the month of Ramadhan. For higher upliftment and forging a closer affinity with the Celestial World we have I’tikaf.
In I’tikaf the bondsman cuts himself away from everything and throws himself at the threshold , or rather the feet oh his Lord and Creator. He remembers Him, exalts His name and offers earnest repentance to Him, cries over his sins and follies, entreats Him for mercy and forgiveness and seeks His countenance and propinquity. His days and nights are spent in that way. The holy Prophet (saw) used to take special care to observe I’tikaf during the Last ten days of Ramadhan. Once when he could not carry it out due to some reason, it observed it for twenty days in the following Ramadhan.
It is related on the authority of Ayesha (RA) that “The Apostle of Allah (saw) observed I’tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadhan, till the end of his life. After his death his wives continued with it.”
Bukhari and Muslim
Commentary; The Prophet’s wives observed I’tikaf in their apartments, and for women, in general, the place where they celebrate the prayer-services at home is the right place for I’tikaf. If there is no such place in the house, arrangements should be made for it.
Anas narrates the “The Apostle of Allah (saw) observed I’tikaf during the last ten days of Ramadhan. One year he could not do the I’tikaf, and so in the next year he did it for twenty days.”
Commentary: It is not stated in the above narrative of Hazrat Anas (RA) why the Prophet (saw) could not observe I’tikaf in that year. But in another tradition quoted in Nassai and Abu Dawood, on the authority of Hazrat Ubbi bin Ka’ab, it is told that once the Prophet (saw) had to go on a journey during the last ten days of Ramadhan, and therefore he could not carry out the I’tikaf that year, but in the next year he did it for twenty days.
It is further mentioned in Sahih Bukhari, on the authority of Hazrat Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (saw) had also observed I’tikaf for twenty days in the month of Ramadhan of the year in which he died. Perhaps the Prophet (saw) had received some indication that his hour of departure from the world was near, and after it he naturally felt more powerfully drawn to observances like I’tikaf.
Ayesh (RA) related to us that “The rules of Shariat for the M’otakif (i.e.: one who is in I’tikaf) are that he should neither go out to visit the sick nor attend a funeral nor have sexual intercourse nor engage in (love play) like kissing and embracing nor even step out of the Mosque for personal needs save those that are unavoidable (such as, answering the call of nature), and I’tikaf (should be observed only with fasting) – there can no I’tikaf without fasting – and it must be carried out in the jam’I masjid and at no other place.
Commentary: As we have explained earlier, when a Companion says about a thing that it is the Sunnat it denotes that it is what is prescribed in the Sharia and the inference is that he had learned it from the sayings or doings of the Prophet. The rules of I’tikaf delineated in the above tradition, thus, fall within the category of the Prophet’s commands and directives.
It is related by Abdullah bin Abbas that the Apostle of God said about the person who is in I’tikaf that “(owing to I’tikaf and by reason of keeping within the limits of the mosque) he is protected from sin and the account of is virtues deeds goes on like that of any other virtues bondsman and (they ) are put down in his Balance-sheet of Deed.”
Commentary: When the bondsman confines himself in the mosque for I’tikaf, he makes a great addition to his virtuous deeds through prayer, Zikr and Tilawat but, at the same time, he is prevented from performing certain acts of high moral and religious worth, as for instance, he cannot visit the sick or care for them which is a most meritorious act in the sight of God or work for the welfare of the weak, the indigent and the orphan and the widow or bathe the dead body which, is done with sincerity and there is the desire to earn the divine recompense, is a deed of much moral goodness. In the same way, he cannot go out to participate in the funeral service nor accompany the bier to the graveyard in doing which sin are forgiven at each step and good deeds are written in the Scroll of Deeds.
The above traditions, however gives, the glad tidings to the devotee observing I’tikaf that, by the command of God, all the good acts he used to perform normally but is kept away from performing owing to I’tikaf are written down in his Register of Deeds